Looking at a blank page on my computer screen often feels like staring into an empty void that threatens to swallow me whole. Or at least haunt me like the biggest to-do list you’ve ever confronted. And not even a generous pour of a fine, fine single malt can calm a journalist’s nerves when she gapes at the emptiness and thinks of the responsibility she takes on whenever she sits down to pen an article or even a column. But especially an article. These are other people’s stories I need to tell. To even speak to a journalist is to trust them with your story, your business, your reputation. It can become a crippling source of anxiety if I think about it too much or too long.
There is one exception to these moments of existential dread, one time when the empty page is a thrill: the very start of the year. Maybe it’s just the lingering delight of the holidays, but the end of December and beginning of January feel like the only times of the year when people are determinedly looking ahead with optimism, not obsessing over mistakes and misgivings of the past and lamenting about our collective doom. (Sorry for the reminder, but writing this now from my perch in New York City, I’m steeling myself for the 11 months ahead as my nation engages in what promises to be a filthy and outrageous – if not outright terrifying and despair-inducing – election cycle. But like I said: in these first few days of the year, the calm before the storm, we can grip our optimism tightly. Desperately.)
At the outset of the year, the empty page is a convenient representation of a blank slate. And so, in the spirit of looking ahead, I want to share my hopes of drink trends that should stay and ones that should go.
It starts with keeping it close to home. None of us can – or should – ever decry the destination cocktail bar or high-roller whisky bar. Everyone reading these pages should take a visit to the latest greatest drinking destination. Every new-business owner and entrepreneur needs all the support they can get – yes, on the occasion of first opening, but more so a few months later when the novelty wears off and the buzz dies down.
That being said, don’t be distracted by glitz and sparkle. Even though the pandemic feels like history by now, your local still needs all the love it can get. Given inflation, the growth of the mocktail, and the increased legality of cannabis in the United States, which many younger people are opting for over alcohol, your pub and corner dive need you. And let’s face it, even the most creative cocktail in the world can’t be as satisfying and comforting as a well-poured pint or a session over Old Grand-Dad Bonded or Wild Turkey 101.
Speaking of, while I’m no fusty old-timer (I’ve got a few decades left in me yet), I would like to see a return to single malt Scotch being single malt Scotch. I roll my eyes when I get a press release of recipes featuring malts, especially when the product is more complex on its own than the cocktail, which would mask any and all nuances. Blended Scotch? Bring on the Rob Roys and highballs. But single malts do not need to hitch their proverbial wagons to cocktails’ stars.
And on the matter of blended Scotch, I’d sure love to see more people show a healthy respect for the stuff. Real talk: your basic, average, ubiquitous blends such as Dewar’s White Label, Black Bottle, and Famous Grouse are a jaw-dropping bang for your buck. We talk a whole lot about ‘craft’ whisky with the implication that small is good, and big mass production is not. I would assert, however, that the £25 bottle of blended Scotch is, indeed, craft. To create a consistent product at that scale with agricultural products and casks of malts that could very easily be different from batch to batch is nothing short of incredible. How is that not worthy of our respect?
I’m excited about a lot of other things in 2024, like trying whiskies from countries not known for grain spirits, particularly France and Scandinavian nations. And I’m looking forward to seeing others go the way of the T. Rex (I’m looking at you, QR-code menus and clarified cocktails). But for now, you can find me at my local pub sipping on blended Scotch and soda.